René Bobadilla had just started lunch on April 13 when he got a call from Walmart’s government relations office.
“I almost choked,” he says.
Bobadilla is the city manager of Pico Rivera and the government relations rep had just informed him that the local Walmart Supercenter was shutting down within hours and possibly for six months — due to a plumbing issue.
That meant 530 workers cut at Pico Rivera’s second-largest employer and a severe budget hit to the San Gabriel Valley city of 63,000. Sales tax from the Supercenter accounts for some 10 percent of city revenues — an estimated $1.4 million a year.
The nature of the problem is a mystery.
“They haven’t told us specifically — is it their main, do they have water coming out of their drain? I don’t know,” Bobadilla says.
The Pico Rivera store is one of five Walmart stores around the country suddenly closed due to vaguely defined plumbing problems.
“Good morning, everyone. My name is Venanzi Luna and I’m on strike.” With those words, today’s rally at the Pico Rivera Walmart made history as the first ever strike of Walmart workers in the United States.
More than 300 people descended on the store to support the nearly 75 workers who walked off the job today to protest retaliation by the corporate giant. Associates from other stores across Los Angeles, including Duarte, Panorama City and Orange County also joined in the walkout and attended the landmark event. Associates who are members of the group Our Walmart were recently fired for speaking about the cutting of hours, reductions in health benefits and poverty jobs that force many to seek out public assistance programs to stay afloat.
Workers, joined by their spouses and children, cheered and nodded in agreement as fellow store associates talked about what they hoped to achieve by standing up.